Michael Alexander Smith FAHA: 4 October 1955—16 October 2022

Research output: Other contribution


Emeritus Professor Michael Alexander Smith made pioneering contributions to our understandings of Australia’s human and environmental histories. He was a tenacious, collaborative, strategic, intelligent and deeply learned researcher. He produced more than 110 refereed journal articles, six edited books and monographs, a major report published on CD, three single authored books and a range of published datasets and popular works. Emeritus Professor Smith’s research was recognised by a plethora of prestigious awards, including the Rhys Jones Medal for Outstanding Contribution to Australian Archaeology from the Australian Archaeological Association in 2006, the Verco Medal from the Royal Society of South Australia in 2010, an Order of Australia (AM) in 2013.

Emeritus Professor Smith’s ground-breaking research begun in the 1980s at a time when Australian deserts were largely believed to be inhospitable landscapes that were uninhabited until 12,000 years ago. His excavations at Puritjarra rockshelter in Central Australia between 1986 and 1990 tripled the known timing of Indigenous occupation in the region. This research ended a decade of scientific speculation on occupation of the arid interior of Australia and refuted the hypothesis that the arid interior was first settled during Holocene climatic amelioration around 12-10 kyr.

Michael Alexander Smith died in the midst of life. A month prior to his death, in midSeptember 2022, he undertook a physically challenging visit to Warratyi rockshelter in the Flinders ranges with Giles Hamm, Cliff Coulthard, Gavin Prideaux and other scholars as part of research for a current Australian Research Council (ARC) project. Over his career he was a Chief Investigator on nine ARC grants and at the time of his passing he held two current ARC grants and actively supported other projects. He was a wonderful, intellectually generous mentor. He used his critical thinking skills to support emerging, mid-career and senior scholars at a number of Australian institutions, advising, supporting and promoting their careers and research. The formal affiliations he held at his death were Senior Research Fellow Archaeology (Emeritus) with the National Museum of Australia, (Emeritus) Professor with Academic Status at Flinders University, Honorary Associate Professor at the Australian National University and Adjunct Professor at La Trobe University. His research etched out many pathways for other scholars to explore.
Original languageEnglish
Media of outputOnline
PublisherAustralian Academy of Humanities
Number of pages7
Place of PublicationCanberra, ACT
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2022


  • Professor Mike Smith
  • Obituary
  • Pioneering Desert Field Archaeologist


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